Enviable Collection

10th June 2022

Another print deadline is all but upon us at Inspirations HQ.

As the finishing touches were being put on Inspirations issue #116 and A Passion for Needlework | The Whitehouse Daylesford, our attention turned to the next title on our production schedule – the long-awaited reprint of Susan O’Connor’s ‘Flowers for Elizabeth’.

Not only will the original blanket be photographed afresh, but Susan has recreated each of the motifs from the blanket in fine silk thread, all of which will need to be captured for inclusion in the book.

And so the hunt for a location began!

Our thoughts immediately turned to Carrick Hill, a Tudor-style house located at the foot of the Adelaide Hills that is best known for its extensive artwork collection and expansive grounds. However, what was of most interest to us, was its vast collection of Jacobean oak furniture that we thought might just provide the perfect backdrop for Susan’s blanket.

Although we were supposed to be concentrating on the furniture on our recent location scout, as we stepped into the foyer, we couldn’t help but be distracted by an exquisitely embroidered three-fold screen.

The screen was embroidered by Mary Isobel Barr Smith as a gift to her daughter Ursula Hayward, who along with her husband, was Carrick Hill’s original owner. Heavily inspired by motifs used by Morris & Company, it was a true labour of love with each of its panels measuring 199.5 cm x 83.5 cm (78.5” x 33”).

The screen hinted at some of what was to follow.

Almost every room of the house contained within it something created with needle and thread. Open fireplaces housed fire screens with needlepoint inserts. Privacy screens as well as many of the footstools and chairs were similarly decorated with needlepoint. Opulent curtains were edged with intricate tassels. Beneath a lavish dinner set, the formal dining table was set with delicately embroidered placemats.

It was an informal sitting room, however, that provided the most personal of insights into how important needle and thread was to the home’s occupants. Most likely a space occupied by Ursula, alongside a lounge chair sat an open box filled with skeins of thread along with a piece of fabric, complete with transferred design, just waiting to be stitched. Above the chair, an unfinished William Morris ‘Apple Tree’ panel stitched by Mary Isobel has been preserved in glass. 

It was Mary Isobel who imparted the love of stitch to Ursula and one can only imagine how often the two of them sat together in Isobel’s sitting room passing the time with needle and thread, perhaps creating much of the enviable collection that remains intact within the house today.

The anthology of pieces created with needle and thread speaks not only to their creators, but also to the owners of Carrick Hill who appreciated the value of that created by hand. It is truly a collection to be admired and envied.

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